Tonbridge History

Tonbridge Historical Society


The Society was founded in 1960 to provide a focus for local people with historical interests. Unlike some similar societies it is concerned with national history and with archaeology, as well as with the history of Kent and the local area. The annual subscription is £9 per person (£3 for students under 18), and new members are welcome. If you would like to join, please download and print the Application form or apply to the Hon. Sec. via the contact page. (Application Form requires Adobe Reader, probably already installed on your computer, If not, click here for free download.)

A programme of lectures by invited speakers runs through the winter months. Meetings take place in the Riverside Room in the Angel Centre, Tonbridge, usually  on Thursday evenings. In addition there is an afternoon meeting, with tea, on a Saturday in November.

The society's Research Group explores varied aspects of the history of the town and its inhabitants, and has produced six publications.

A twice-yearly Newsletter is published with Society news, information, articles and pictures relating to the history of Tonbridge. You can download some recent Newsletters here.

The society also maintains extensive collections of archives and pictorial material, and is starting to build a collection of three-dimensional artefacts.

The local Archaeology Officer is a member of our Society and keeps a watching brief on building works in the area which may reveal historic material.

Lecture programme 2018-19

Meetings are held in the Riverside Room in the Angel Centre, Tonbridge, usually on the second Thursday of the month. Non-members are welcome to attend as guests at a fee of £3 (under 18s free), payable at the door.

Thursday 20th September, 7.45 pm

Putting 1066 and William the Conqueror in perspective

David Bates

The speaker is a distinguished former Professor of Medieval History at the University of East Anglia, specializing in the history of Britain and France in the 10th to 13th centuries. His recent books include a life of William the Conqueror in the ‘English Monarchs’ series, in which he proposes a radical revision of the Conqueror’s life, and ‘1066 in perspective’ published with the Royal Armouries. This illustrated talk comes highly recommended by one of our members.

Thursday 11th October, 7.45 pm

Tonbridge in World War I

Pam Mills

The speaker is a Youth Liaison officer for the Royal British Legion, and well-known locally as organiser and promoter of Remembrance events. She has researched in depth all aspects of Tonbridge town and its people in the 1914-18 war, and recently developed, with Dave Swarbrick, a WWI Tonbridge Town Walk.

Saturday 10th November, 2.30 pm

Booking is essential for this meeting – a form with details of charges is available from the Secretary

Two talks by Robert Stephenson

Another recommendation from one of our members, Robert Stephenson is a qualified City of London Culture & Heritage Guide. He is also a trustee at Kensal Green and Brompton cemeteries. He teaches about London and ‘death studies’ and is chairman of the National Federation of Cemetery Friends.

1 The Knights Templar & their London connections Starting as humble warrior-monks protecting pilgrims in the Holy Land, the Knights Templar developed a global support network and became rich and powerful. The talk looks at London sites connected with their headquarters and their brutal suppression.

2 London’s Traditional Customs & Ceremonies

In his second talk the speaker will give an overview of the capital’s many fascinating customs and observances. It celebrates the persistence of ostensibly nonsensical rituals over hundreds of years.

Thursday 20th December, 7.45 pm

Behind the scenes in the Golden Years of television

Wilf Lower

The speaker spent his early life surrounded by music hall and variety performers as the family home provided ‘digs’ for ‘pros’ appearing at local theatres. He went on to work at the BBC where he was responsible for Scenic Operations: the scenery, props, ‘working’ the shows, essentially everything seen on the screen except the performers, their costumes and makeup! He will be talking about characters, situations and other events from the period of Morecambe and Wise, The Forsyte Saga, When the Boat comes in, The Good Life, Top of the Pops, Last Night of the Proms and many others.

Thursday 14th February 2019, 7.45 pm

Old Kent Windmills

Andrew Wood

The talk will feature some fine old mills that have long since disappeared from the Kentish landscape, plus a few preserved mills ‒ mills at Hildenborough and Bidborough are included. It will incorporate an audio-visual presentation tailored to our area of the county and include some drone photography. Mr Wood is an experienced speaker to local societies and is based in Ashford.

Thursday 14th March 2019, 7.45 pm

A Schoolgirl’s War

Mary Smith

The speaker is a former Headmistress of Maidstone Girls’ Grammar School, and author of the recently-published book ‘A Schoolgirl’s War: the Story of a Kent School in World War Two’. It features an exquisite, probably unique, and previously unpublished set of paintings of school life during the Battle of Britain and the doodlebug attacks. The paintings were completed by the school’s art teacher, Helen Keen, as the war unfolded. Also included are fascinating and often surprising recollections of past pupils, now in their 80s and 90s.

Thursday April 11th 2019, 7.30 pm

AGM, followed by

The Domesday Knights of Canterbury

Vanessa King

The speaker is a medieval historian teaching for the University of London and a former Committee Member of THS. She has published articles on aspects of Domesday Book, and recently on the Black Death. Her talk will focus on the landholdings of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s knights in 1086.


Our lecture topics in 2017-18 were 'British Travellers at the Court of Tsars', 'A tour through the Darent Villages', 'Prehistoric discoveries on Kent’s Channel Coast', 'The quest for longitude', 'Hop Picking in West Kent', 'The plague doctor of Kent','Tonbridge turnpikes and transport'. 

Our lecture topics in 2016-17 were 'Crossrail Archaeology', 'Life in a Noble Household in the 14th century', 'Monasteries & Monastic Life' and 'Building a Mediaeval Cathedral', 'Bad King John?', 'Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart Kent', 'Elizabethan and Jacobean Deer Parks in Kent', 'Aspects of Medieval Tonbridge'.

Our lecture topics in 2015-16 were: 'Magna Carta', 'The Huguenots and their contribution to Kent', 'The Signs of the Times (how to read medieval art) and The Politeness of Princes (the reality of medieval etiquette and table manners)', 'An engineer at the Great Exhibition', 'The Medway Valley during the Roman Occupation', 'The real Downton Abbey – Edwardian Service', 'Fortress Tonbridge 1939-45'.

Our lecture topics in 2014-15 were: 'Traditional Kentish building meterials', 'Archaeology and Graffiti at Knole', 'The London Eye', 'First World War artists', 'Kent 100BC to 600AD', '19th century gluttony and starvation'.

In 2013-14 they were: 'The Georgians', 'Kent in the Civil War', 'Shakespeare's Playhouses', 'Theatrical Lives', 'A History of comic verse', 'A POW's diary', 'Gadshill Place', and 'The Luttrell Psalter'.

In 2012-13 they were: 'A History of domestic lighting', 'Hospitals and Almshouses', 'Victorian London' and 'Victorian leisure and pleasure', 'The Queen and the 1950s', 'Black Travellers in 19th century Africa', 'Policing the past', 'The Norman Conquest'.

In 2011-12 they were: 'Tudor Ladies', 'A City of Legends (Benghazi history and archaeology') 'Women Wartime Workers in the Munitions Industry and The Bevin Boys', 'Oral history – fact or fiction?', 'The building of the Crystal Palace', 'Cast Iron Firebacks', 'All the rage – fashions in the 1920s and 30s'. 

In 2010-11 they were: 'Louis XIVth', 'Knole and the Sackvilles', 'The Magpie' (drama presentation on the wives of Henry VIIIth), 'Railways in West Kent', 'The Origins and Early Development of Towns in Kent', 'The Salomons of Broomhill', 'The work of the KCC Heritage Conservation Team'.

In 2009-10 they were: 'Darwin, the scientist in the garden', 'Edward 1st', 'Paintings of domestic town gardens', 'The history of lace', 'The Wealden Forest Ridge project', 'Emigration in the 19th century', and 'Sightseeing in the Middle Ages'.

In 2008-9 they were: 'Rudyard Kipling', 'Mediaeval Sandwich', 'A country house Christmas', 'Plays and Players in Mediaeval and Early Modern Kent', 'Archaeology of the Olympic site', 'Westenhanger Castle', and 'A closer look at old Tonbridge'.


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